Dakota Datebook

Alexander Hughes

Monday, June 2, 2014


In 1883, the Dakota Territory Assembly voted to relocate the territorial capital from Yankton. They created a special commission with instructions to “select a suitable site for the seat of government of the Territory of Dakota, due regard being had to its accessibility from all portions of the Territory…”


After visiting many aspiring towns the Capital Commission returned to Fargo to make their final decision. But the commission struggled to come to a consensus. According to Burleigh F. Spalding, a member of the Capital Commission, on the first ballot, the members voted for seven different locations, none receiving a majority. By the twelfth ballot, Bismarck had four of the nine votes. Finally on the thirteenth ballot, five of the nine members voted for Bismarck. On this day, June 2, 1882, the Capital Commission announced their selection for the new territorial capitol.


The fifth and deciding vote for Bismarck was cast by the President of the Capital Commission, Alexander Hughes.


Born in Ontario, Canada in September of 1846, Hughes was raised in Columbia County, Wisconsin. When the Civil War erupted, he enlisted at the age of 14, serving with his two brothers in Company B, Seventh Wisconsin Infantry, assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Seriously wounded in the 1864 Battle of North Anna from a shot that entered his left side and exited his right, he was finally forced out of service. Returning to Wisconsin, Hughes studied business and law, eventually moving to Elk Point, Dakota Territory in 1871 to practice law. Within a year Alexander Hughes had been elected to the upper house of the Territorial Legislature, even serving as the President of the Council in 1872.


Appointed by the legislative assembly to the Capital Committee in 1883, Hughes not only played an important role in securing the new capital in present-day North Dakota, the new capitol building was also constructed under his supervision. Included in the commission’s resolution to place the new territorial capital in Bismarck was the appointment of Hughes to a Building Committee given the charge of working with the architects and any other actions necessary to secure plans for the building.


Hughes relocated to Bismarck in 1883, where he remained for sixteen years. He then moved to Fargo and became involved in the manufacture and sale of electrical power. Alexander Hughes finally retired to Minneapolis where he passed away on November 24, 1907.


The Hughes name played an important role in the development of North Dakota’s capital city, in no small part thanks to his deciding vote. The Hughes name also played a small role in the selection of South Dakota’s capital city. In 1880, the territorial governor authorized the formation of Hughes County, named for Alexander Hughes. Since Pierre was the only town in the county, it became the county seat. Ten year later, the citizens of Pierre, in Hughes County, successfully lobbied for the permanent location of the South Dakota state capital.


Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall






Compendium of History and Biography of North Dakota Chicago: Geo. A. Ogle & Co., 1900.


Hennessy, W. B., ed. History of North Dakota. Vol. 2. Bismarck: The Bismarck Tribune Company, 1910.


Herbert L. Meschke, Ted Smith, “The North Dakota Supreme Court: A Century of Advances”, North Dakota Supreme Court http://www.court.state.nd.us/history/century/ (accessed 2008).


“Hughes County”, Hughes County, South Dakota http://www.hughescounty.org/index.asp (accessed 2008).


“A New Capital for Dakota.” The New York Times, June 4, 1883, 1.





This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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